California Fool's Gold -- Exploring Elysian Valley, Los Angeles's Frogtown

Posted by Eric Brightwell, June 20, 2009 10:47pm | Post a Comment

In this entry of the Los Angeles neighborhood blog, we will cover Elysian Valley. To vote for a neighborhood, go here. To vote for a Los Angeles County community go here. To vote for Orange County communities, go here.

Pendersleigh & Sons' Official Maps of the Mideast Side and Elysian Valley

Elysian Valley
is a small working class neighborhood in LA's Mideast Side, bordered by Fletcher to the north, the 5 freeway to the west and south, and the LA river to the east and south. It's surrounded by Elysian Park, Silver Lake, and Elysian Heights and, across the river, Atwater Village, Glassell Park and Cypress Park.

Elysium, in the Greek religion, was the part of the Underworld reserved for heroes. It includes the Elysian Plains and the Elysian Fields. Elysian Valley, however, is mostly populated by Latinos and Asians, both heroic and not. The demographic of the neighborhood is roughly 61% Latino, 26% Asian and 10% white.

The neighborhood is fairly green and lush. Although many homes sit on dirt yards, the streets are lined with trees and the LA River that borders it is almost like a jungle. At any time of the day, there are people fishing its waters, although orange foam makes me wonder if that's such a good idea. There are abundant carp, ducks, cormorants, herons and the occasional crawdaddy.

The neighborhood is a mix of residential and industrial. There are no commercial spaces in the neighborhood's interior aside from one market, the Lovely Service Market. On the northern border there are a few places along Fletcher including Altamirano Records and Mazda Miata Specialist. When the 5 was constructed in the 1950s, many residents of Elysian Valley were displaced and the commercial corridor that helped the neighborhood thrive in the 1930s withered and died. There is a sliver of the old main drag along Riverside, which is home to Won's Market, Paramount Pest Control, Rick's Drive-In, Warren Animal Hospital and Coco's.

The Dorris Place Elementary School has appeared in several movies, television shows, and commercials including High School High, an Aflac Insurance ad, an episode of Cold Case, the 2003 version of Freaky Friday and the short film, First Days. "'Neath the hills of Elysian, stands an honored place..."

The community was first known as Gopher Flats around 1900, when it was established for railroad workers. It was later known as Little River Valley. It got its nickname of Frogtown in the 1930s. Back before the river was flood controlled, there were thousand of Western Toads (not frogs) that invaded the neighborhood, with the last wave occuring in the 1970s. In the same decade, the name Frogtown ended up becoming associated with the local gang, Frogtown, who then numbered 3,000 members. The graffiti suggests they're much diminished now, with most of the heavy tagging done by Echo Park gangs.

Nice Frogtown mural with an FTR tag

[UPDATE: When I originally published this blog, this observation made several Frogtown members angry enough to comment in all-caps. Those angry comments were deleted by a blog format change, not me. Furthermore, when I spent the better part of the day in Frogtown on 26 March, 2013, there were many Frogtown tags in evidence and no Echo Park ones. Tags are still ugly.]


Currently the neighborhood has, despite its proximity to downtown and the 5, an almost post-apocalyptic character. Crumbling industrial buildings are surrounded by razor wire with shredded plastic garbage caught on the spike and lush flora sprouts up amongst the decaying garbage and industrial ruins.

Heavily tagged, abandoned cars sit on sleepy streets with their doors left open. In fact, it seems like Frogtown's one of the most heavily tagged neighborhoods in the city, although there are officially sanctioned murals too. Each August, the small arts scene puts on The Frogtown Artwalk. Celebrity artist Shepard Fairey, has an art studio in a building near Worthen and Ripple.

At night, it's very dark, with very few street lights. With few through streets, it's almost all dead ends, and I've known people to get stuck up over there by knuckleheads with nothing better to do. The buildings above were painted in 1978 by Juvenile Hall inmates.

There are a couple of parks. Marsh Park features the large rattlesnake sculpture. Oso Park features a sculpture of a bear, and not the sort seen uphill in Elysian Park.



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California Fool's Gold (114), Frogtown (1), Los Angeles (205), Hispanic Heritage Month (34), Mideast Side (12), Season 3 (9), Central Los Angeles (18), Los Angeles Neighborhoods (70), Shepard Fairey (11), Elysian Valley (2)